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Fears of 'mystery virus strain' force ship to anchor off Queensland coast


A cargo ship has been forced to anchor off the Sunshine Coast amid concerns a previously undetected strain of COVID-19 is on board.

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The ship, Sofrana Surville, sailed into Australian waters from New Zealand via Noumea on Monday.

An engineer who worked on the Sofrana as well as another ship tested positive to coronavirus in New Zealand on the weekend.

The engineer has a strain of the virus not previously detected in New Zealand or Australia, officials say.

Queensland Health says there are currently no confirmed cases on the ship, but the 19 crew will undergo testing and, if necessary, be brought to hospital for treatment.

Victoria appears to have a rare case of coronavirus reinfection.

Premier Daniel Andrews has confirmed Tuesday’s sole case is now being treated as a COVID-19 reinfection, rather than a shedding of the virus from a long-past infection.

An expert panel had made the call, after the man originally tested positive in July and recently re-tested as positive for the virus.

“The case is being managed very cautiously,” the premier said.

On Wednesday, Victoria reported no coronavirus deaths and only three new cases.

Two new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in NSW in the last 24 hours.

Both are linked to the cluster at the Great Beginnings Childcare Centre at Oran Park in Sydney’s south-west, which now totals 22 cases. There were also eight cases confirmed in overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.

‘A strain they hadn’t seen’

Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Angus Mitchell said if COVID-19 was detected among the crew it could help solve the mystery of how the engineer was infected.

“It was a strain that they hadn’t seen in New Zealand,” Mitchell said. “So at this stage we’re still trying to work out exactly where that individual got it from.

“We put it to anchor off Mooloolaba, we’ll undergo complete testing of the crew today and then we’ll see what those tests reveal.

“If there is indeed any COVID on board, we can get a better tie-back and understand that contact tracing, if that’s something we need to pursue.”

Mitchell said there were not yet any reports of illness on board the ship, but there would be no health risk to the Queensland public if positive cases were found.

He said more than 10,000 ships carrying about 200,000 seafarers had entered Queensland ports since the end of January.

Crew members with the virus had been treated either at sea or in hospital.

Under current Queensland Health regulations, all maritime crew are required to quarantine for 14 days after entering the state if they have been overseas or in a COVID-19 hotspot.

– ABC / Owen Jacques

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